Accessing Well-Being in the Midst of it All
By Ben Gaibel, LCSW
It is common to think of “well-being” as something that we can attain in the future if we have the right conditions in place, or the right state of mind. Common beliefs include, “If only I could find the right job, or the right partner, or get of rid my illness, then I’ll be happy…When I solve my psychological issues, get rid of my anxiety, heal from my grief, and find peace, then I’ll be happy.” I would like to introduce some ways we can access a sense of well-being without having to put it off into the future, and without having to have all the right circumstances in place. I am referring to a sense of well-being that goes beyond what society thinks of as conventional happiness. This is a practice of fully showing up in our lives in the present moment, opening to what is already here, and taking in what is good.
Whether you are sad or happy, anxious or peaceful, here are some practices that can be done in any moment for a greater sense of well-being:
Bring your attention to the present moment, no matter how simple or routine the activity. Allow yourself to be fully in your body and experience ordinary moments that would normally pass you by. For example, when you are in the shower, feel the warm water on your back, hearing the sounds of the water coming and going. If you are walking outside, feel the warmth of the sun, the cool breeze, or the sights of something beautiful in nature. When you are eating, fully taste and smell the food. Bringing your attention to your senses can give greater access to being fully alive.
Incline the mind towards experiences that bring a sense of well-being. This can require ongoing practice because human minds tend to be more inclined towards noticing things that are going wrong, ignoring the many things that going right. Why not keep a look out for the good that is already here? Examples include:
- Enjoying the presence of a loved one (human or animal!), fully seeing and hearing them, in touch with the feelings you have about this special being (perhaps a warmth in your heart area).
- Every night before bedtime and every morning upon waking, allowing yourself to think about something you are grateful for, no matter how big or small.
- Reminding yourself throughout the day to appreciate things that normally are taken for granted, such as having access to clean water, parts of your body that are working properly, kindness expressed from another person, or even just being alive!
- If you have trouble finding something good, perhaps you can recognize any aspect of your experience where specific bad things are NOT present. You can recognize when you are NOT miserable, or NOT filled with anger, or as Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh says, we can enjoy a “non-toothache.”
In the midst of difficulty, expand your awareness to include something positive. In the midst of a struggle, it is normal to get tunnel vision and ONLY see what is wrong. If you expand your awareness and try to notice something else, such as any of the suggestions above, it can be calming and grounding to your whole nervous system. I am not suggesting to ignore problems or deny difficult feelings. There is tremendous value in honoring difficult feelings and giving them attention with kindness. My invitation to you is to occasionally expand the field of awareness to go beyond just looking at what is difficult. It is possible to have greater balance by opening to the full range of experiences, including something that is going right.
Regardless of how we’re feeling, if we keep looking for the joy that’s already here, we’ll likely find it. Like any practice, the more we do it, the easier and more frequent it will become. As we open to what’s already here, we can deeply experience the gift and wonder of being alive.